Texas Governor orders plan to improve services for special education students

Elias Hubbard
January 13, 2018

The fact that the Education Department under DeVos pursued this Texas investigation aggressively is taken by some as a sign that it will stand up for the rights of students with disabilities.

Texas education officials violated federal law when they excluded more than 100,000 students with disabilities from programs created to help them, the federal government announced.

The target, enacted in 2004 and eliminated previous year, was set at 8.5 percent of enrollment, and school districts were penalized for exceeding that benchmark, even though the state and national averages had both always been about 12 percent.

It comes after interviews and visits with parents, administrators and state officials.

In a sweeping report issued Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education said the Lone Star State failed to ensure that the free appropriate public education guaranteed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was provided to all of the state's children with disabilities and Texas also did not make certain that all kids in need of special education were identified and evaluated.

In response to Thursday's news, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, gave the state education agency seven days to draft a corrective action plan.

The federal investigation was prompted by a massive report from the Houston Chronicle in 2016.

Gov. Abbott orders the TEA to "take steps now to significantly increase the oversight provided to ensure our special education students are receiving the services they deserve". Affected students couldn't get assistance such as therapy or extra instruction for learning disabilities. Abbott, though, demanded that the state education agency produce by next week "an initial corrective action plan" to fully revamp special education.

Many school districts subjected their students to interventions in a general education environment rather than provide them with services when they were suspected of having a disability, according to a report.

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The Texas Education Agency eliminated the target in late 2016, but its effects linger.

Advocates for children with disabilities have praised the federal report. Abbott made 17 appointments in December and the board was meeting Friday, discussing how to make improvements.

Meanwhile, Texas fired state special education director Laurie Kash in November, following her filing a federal complaint over the education agency's having awarding a now-cancelled, no-bid contract to a company tasked with analyzing student data before she was hired. And legislative solutions will be even slower since state lawmakers only meet every-other year and won't be back in session until January 2019.

The agency said Kash's firing wasn't related to the compliant, coming instead because she failed to disclose allegations of the sexual abuse of a girl at an OR school district where she previously worked.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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